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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Back-up Man

By William E. Wallace

(An excerpt from a work in progress)

Pete Garner was the number two, watching the floor, keeping an eye open for the unexpected and giving me some cover. That was the way it was supposed to work, anyway, and it would have worked that way with anybody else.

But Pete was a pothead who only did jobs so he could score at the Medical Marijuana dispensary across town. That meant Pete was almost always loaded, so if he working with you, chances are good he was only partly there.

Which would have been okay if he had been behind the wheel, maybe, driving the crash car, or sitting a mile away in the switch, ready to go when we ditched the getaway: despite what you see on TV or in movies, you drive slowly and carefully when you leave a place you’ve robbed. Even a doped-up pothead can handle it.

But being wasted made Pete useless as a number two because he couldn’t focus. He was always letting his attention drift: watching the CCTV monitor over the cashier to see if some chick was outside, fiddling with his gun, thinking about what he was going to do with his cut of the take.

True to form, the dumb bastard had showed up for this job so baked he couldn’t see across the street. He must have been smoking the stuff for hours because the reek of pot hanging in his clothes and hair made him smell like a urinal for polecats.

If I had been the number two, it would have been different. Unlike Pete, I don’t screw up, at least not during an armed robbery. But I was the number one on this job -- the guy who calls the shots, collects the cash and does the talking -- so I was watching the old man with the beard and turban pop open the convenience store safe while Pete was supposed to be taking care of everything else.

If I had been doing his job, it probably wouldn’t have gone down the way it did.  But by the time I realized Pete wasn’t really the right guy to run security, it was too late. Too late for Pete, too late for me, too late for the old man with the turban, and too damned late for the kid who suddenly came out of the back room, panic-firing the nickel-plated revolver in his hand.

He emptied that Saturday night special at us, six shots, bang, bang, bang. But only one of the damned bullets hit anything: it drilled a hole right through Pete’s midsection, hitting a big vein or artery on its way.  The way blood gushed out of that little bitty hole, you didn’t need to be Dr. Oz to know Pete wasn’t going to make it.

I didn’t have any choice. I put two slugs in the kid with the revolver and one in the old man with the turban. I had to kill the kid because, who knows? he might have had another gun to empty stashed somewhere close to hand; and I had to kill the old man because he’d seen me whack the kid.

It was a poor end to what was supposed to be a simple mom-and-pop stickup: two dead guys on the floor and a sorry-assed pot-head crime partner who would be joining them, either in heaven or hell, before the evening was over. And for what? The safe I emptied held a little bit more than two grand and there was about $500 more in the till. That’s barely enough to make robbing the place worthwhile; it damn sure wasn’t enough to be worth the bullet in Pete’s belly.


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